History of Armstrong County, PA
The earliest inhabitants of Armstrong County were Native Americans belonging to the Algonquin linguistic group. They called themselves LENAPE (len-ah'-pay), which translates to "Original People". The English referred to the Lenni-Lenape as the Delaware Indians. Delaware was not a Native American name. The most notable Lenape settlement west of the Alleghenies in 1727 was Kittanning. An extensive network of trails, many of which went on to become colonial roads, and subsequently, our modern streets, linked the various Lenape campsites and planting fields.
The French & Indian War
During the French and Indian War, the Western Lenapes allied themselves with the French. Kittanning served as a base for their French-sponsored raids on colonial settlements. In July of 1756, the French, along with their Native American allies, attacked Fort Granville. Immediately after receiving news of the fall of Fort Granville, the governor and council at Carlisle dispatched Colonel John Armstrong to retaliate by destroying the Village at Kittanning.
Lt. Col. John Armstrong commanded the Pennsylvania Regiment's Second Battalion. With a contingent of 307 men, Armstrong left Ft. Cumberland, followed the Kittanning Trail over the Allegheny Mountains, and arrived near Kittanning on September 8, 1756. The march through the wilderness with military supplies was remarkable in itself. On the morning of the attack, he had his men leave all unnecessary equipment, including their bedrolls, to be guarded by eight men led by Lt. Hogg.
Kittanning was attacked at daybreak, September 8, 1756. Forty of the 300 Pennsylvania militiamen were killed or wounded in the attack. They recovered several English captives held in the village. The village was destroyed; its dwellings burnt to the ground. Chief Jacobs, who was killed in the attack has been stockpiling a massive amount of gunpowder for use in their campaign against the settlers. Moments after his home was ignited, the gunpowder exploded. The gunpowder from his and other homes created a blast that was reportedly heard 30 miles South at the French Fort Dusquene (later Fort Pitt) .
The severe blow dealt by Lt. Col. Armstrong at Kittanning caused a withdrawl of Native American forces from the French lines. As Lt. Col. John Armstrong and his remaining men began their return to Ft. Cumberland, they discovered that Lt. Hogg's contingent, had been surprised and killed a the hill where they had left their supplies. Since Lenape were mounting their counterattack, Armstrong's force did not have time to gather their supplies and bedrolls. To this day, the site is known as "Blanket Hill", four miles east of Kittanning.
John Armstrong (1717-1795) was a surveyor from Carlisle who became a colonel in the Pennsylvania militia created after Braddock's Defeat. For his leadership of the Kittanning raid, Armstrong was given a hero's welcome in Philadelphia, where he went to collect the bounty money that had been placed on the head of Chief Jacobs. A commemorative medal was struck in his honor. Only twenty of these medals were minted. It was the very first medal issued for bravery in the New World, and the very first minted in America. Approximately five are known to remain.
Fort Armstrong Constructed in 1779
Near the end of the Revolutionary War in 1779, Washington directed a Colonel Rawlings to march from Fort Frederick, Maryland to Fort Pitt (formerly Fort Dusquesne) and then to take 100 of his men and to erect a stockade at Kittanning. Early June of the same year, Colonel Broadhead (of Fort Pitt) wrote Washington to inform him that a "complete stockade fort" had been built and was called Fort Armstrong. The actual fort was located about two miles south of Kittanning. The fort, as history tells, was not built by Colonel Rawlings but by a Lieutenant Colonel Bayard. Before setting out on his expedition against the Seneca Indians, Colonel Broadhead evacuated Fort Randolph, Fort Laurens, and Fort Hand, and erected Fort Armstrong and Fort Crawford on the Allegheny. Fort Armstrong's role in pioneer history was minimal, in November of 1779, the troops were withdrawn, and it was never occupied again.
Kittanning Established as County Seat in 1800
General Armstrong (appointed major general in 1777) purchased (some stories claim he was awarded) 556 1/2 acres from the Province of Pennsylvania. A survey dated May 29, 1771 was presented to Armstrong on Nov 5, 1794. Armstrong never fully realized the acquisition as he died in Carlisle on March 9, 1795. The patent for the tract of land was dated March 22, 1775. General Armstrong called this new tract "Victory". The purchase included all the land north of what is now the intersection of S. Water St and State Route 422 and south of Cowanshannock Creek.
In 1800, an act passed by the Legislature established Kittanning the seat of the Armstrong County, which was formed from parts of Lycoming, Allegheny, and Westmoreland counties.
General Armstrong's heirs deeded 150 acres for the site of Kittanning town with the stipulation that they, the heirs, would receive 1/2 half the monies from the sale of lots. The town itself was laid out in 1803 and consisted of 248 in-lots and 27 out-lots with in-lots selling at an average of $11.45 per lot.
The Revolutionary War - 1776 to 1783
Although some trappers and frontiersmen located here earlier, the true settlement of Armstrong County began shortly after the French and Indian War. It is unknown exactly how many Armstrong settlers fought in the Revolutionary War. In 1778, the 8th Pennsylvania Line formed at Kittanning to utilize the Kittanning Trail. Their mission was to join in the fight in New Jersey. We are sure that a few of the 1,000 in this regiment were Armstrong settlers, although the names are lost in history. Considered to this day as one of the finest examples of a military "forced march," the 8th left Kittanning in mid-January during a terrible winter storm, and marched to Amboy, New Jersey within five days! They lost over 50 soldiers along the way. There are no reliable records of those who died; it can only be assumed that some settlers joined this regiment on its trek.
The Border Wars - 1760 to 1800
After the French and Indian War, Western Pennsylvania increasingly became the Western edge of early America's frontier, previously defined as the Allegheny Mountains. There were several organized and unorganized military and civilian engagements during this time. Native Americans in the area felt betrayed when the French signed over colonial possessions in 1763. An Ottawa chief, Pontiac, immediately organized a formidable confederation of Native Americans, commencing what is known as "Pontiac's War" that was waged throughout Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. After a treaty was signed at Coshocton, Ohio, the area remained peaceful for ten years.
In 1774, hostilities again broke out in what as known as "Lord Dunmore's War." In 1794, the "Whiskey Insurrection/Rebellion" broke out in what was then Allegheny, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties, including the area of Westmoreland that became Armstrong County six years later. Westmoreland County's leader during the Whiskey Rebellion was William Findley, prominent in the formation of Armstrong County. Since this period covers forty years and extends into Ohio and Michigan, the War Wall Committee has designated the period collectively as the "Border Wars" as it pertains to Armstrong County. Many of the actions occurred near the Allegheny River and its tributaries, the natural "highways" of that day. During this period: Fort Armstrong was established and abandoned. Two ranger companies patrolled the area; Capt. Brady established himself as a premier frontiersman in actions on the Mahoning. The famous Harbison family ordeal occurred near Freeport; Native Americans killed three soldiers as late as 1794 near Fort Run in Manor Township (near Riverside Market). The last documented Native American to be killed occurred in 1811 near the mouth of Pine Creek.
In all, eight soldiers, 13 civilians (including three children) and 29 Native Americans died in Armstrong County during this period many unnamed, especially the Native American casualties. Given the record keeping of the day, many more might have died but were unrecorded.
The Civil War Era
In 1866, Union Veterans of the Civil War organized into the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). The GAR existed until 1956. In 1881, the GAR formed the Sons of Veterans of the United States of America (SV). Many GAR Posts sponsored Camps of the SV.
The local Camp, known as the John T. Crawford Camp #43, was originally formed in 1904, and was named in honor of John T. Crawford, a former attorney and physician, who enlisted in the 63rd Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. He was soon promoted to Brigade Surgeon. The Camp surrendered its charter during the Great Depression in 1936.
While tending to his wounded men in Virginia, Major Crawford contracted typhoid fever, and was sent home to recuperate in May 1862. After returning to Kittanning, the disease worsened, and on June 7, 1862, he died from its affects.
His wife, Sarah Colwell Crawford, for whom the Auxiliary is named, never remarried, and remained in Kittanning until her death in 1912. She received a widow's pension of $25.00 per month. Both John and Sarah are buried in Kittanning Cemetery. Sarah's family home was the building now housing the YMCA.
The Auxiliary, however, remained functional until the mid 1950's when it too surrendered its Charter. Both groups were re-chartered in 1990.
Both groups are quite active in numerous activities, including parades, living histories, cemetery rededications and Memorial Day services throughout the area. The group also conducts Civil War era fashion shows and participates in Civil War history presentations with local schools.
The first project the group initiated in 1989 was the erection of a memorial to all Armstrong County Civil War Veterans in Kittanning's Riverfront Park. A data base of over 2200 names and locations of Civil War veteran's graves in Armstrong County is maintained by the organization.
Although exact numbers may never be known, it is estimated that 3562 men from Armstrong County served in the war in over 60 regiments. It is documented that at least 534 County residents died in the Civil war.
some historical information courtesy of Kittanning-PA.com